It’s a common problem that affects between three and six million people in the UK alone, more often women than men. It can often be treated successfully. But many people are too embarrassed to seek medical help for incontinence.
There are two types, thought to be responsible for more than nine out of 10 cases. These are stress incontinence, which is exacerbated by laughing, sneezing or coughing. And urge, when you just can’t ignore that nagging feeling. It is possible to have a mixture of both.
So how can you tackle it? It might not be pleasant to think about, but understanding how your bladder works can help. The kidneys make urine continuously, which constantly filters into the bladder. The bladder is made of muscle and expands like a balloon as it fills. The outlet (urethra) is normally kept closed, helped by the pelvic floor muscles that surround it.
When you pass water, the bladder muscle contracts and the urethra and pelvic floor muscles relax. Complex nerve messages are sent between the brain, bladder and pelvic floor muscles. These tell you how full your bladder is and tell the correct muscles to contract or relax at the right time.
Pelvic floor exercises may cure or improve stress incontinence. It has also been shown that losing a modest amount of weight can help. Urge incontinence can be improved by looking at which foods and drinks may irritate your bladder. Drinks containing caffeine can make the condition worse because it’s a diuretic. Consider switching to decaffeinated alternatives.
Some people go to the lavatory too often to make sure they are not caught short. This can make urge incontinence worse, because the bladder gets used to holding less and shrinks. Bladder retraining – gradually increasing the time between going – will help increase your control. In time, the muscle will stretch and you will gain more control.
Benenden Health offers a dedicated care service, which may be able to offer you a self-management treatment plan to help you manage bladder-related problems. In most cases symptoms can be relieved without surgery.
The specialist nurses at Benenden Hospital follow Nice (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines for the management of male and female lower urinary tract symptoms. These include overactive bladder syndrome and stress incontinence, as well as other continence-related conditions.
Joining Benenden Health gives access to a wide range of advice services and information for every part of life, including instant access to a health concern advice line, which will direct you to the best advice for dealing with continence problems. It is a mutual, not-for-profit organisation, offering discretionary services at a flat rate of £7.80 per person per month.